From the Mawddach to 5th Avenue – A Marian Christmas Story


The Elevator Pitch

We had finished the workshop early. A combination of physical and intellectual exhaustion and the mind focussing anxiety of a long haul flight back to various cities in Europe had at last achieved a calm consensus amongst our dysfunctional clients, tinged with just a little smugness.

As flip charts were being numbered, folded and placed in art bags and the flotsam and jetsam of the product stimulus stored in captains’ bags, the mood of my colleagues was lifted by the prospect of a weekend in Manhattan, shopping halls bedecked and dressed as only Manhattan at Christmas knows how

Thanking my colleagues for their efforts and great enthusiasm in the face of some highly uninspiring clients and some chippy agency folk, I let them know that it was now officially the weekend, and the real fun could commence. I suggested cocktails at the Pen Top Bar at seven o’clock, providing my colleagues with almost three of hours of free time, which given the exchange rate, was not necessarily going to be cheap time.

I left the Agency where our long workshop had been held, and headed up Madison. I was immediately hit by the full multi-sensory package of a Friday afternoon in Midtown on a holiday afternoon in December.

The last splodge of blue sky was fading now; the air was cold and smelled of the usual mix of pretzel salt, roasted chestnuts and automobile exhaust fumes. The soundscape was dominated by the noise of gridlocked cars, the whistles of NYPD traffic wardens, charity bell ringers and the claptrap of pedestrians walking in that focussed way to wherever it was that they were going. I was making for 5th Avenue and St Thomas’s, where I was hoping to catch one of the services.

I knew the calming quiet of the stone and the beauty of the canticles would transform my spirits and restore my energies for what lay ahead, when I would be meeting the team intent upon some serious R&R. I was walking westwards along 45th, when temptation suddenly presented itself in the shape of Saks Fifth Avenue. Since we creative types in marketing don’t wear ties anymore, finding interesting ways to differentiate ourselves and reveal character is an important priority and not just a matter of personal vanity. I knew that Saks had an excellent range of stripy socks.

The side entrance took me to a small treasure house display of leather and jewels, and from there, I found myself in the fragrant bling of the ground floor, a shrine to the industry of beauty. I took the elevator to the men’s designer gallery on 7th, and as its doors opened, I started scanning the scene with a strategic shopper’s eye.

No more than 10 minutes later, I had handed over my credit card and paid and was now sporting a seasonal Saks shopping bag containing numerous pairs of socks, a silk handkerchief and a woollen hat and scarf. The sugar rush from shopping had revitalised me.  But I also needed to visit the bathroom. Moments later, I was back at the elevator just to the right of what Saks called the Men’s Lounge. The door opened and I walked in

The car was empty apart from a random Father Christmas figure who looked straight out of central casting

‘Hello there, Santa’ I said, emboldened by my impulse purchasing success.

He turned and smiled and said:

‘And you, I think, are an advertising man, are you not?’

Well, I was carrying a small art bag, so I suppose this was an easy guess to make; and I was indeed an ex –adman. I had long since given up trying to explain the difference between an adman and the tricky concept of a brand consultant. Before I could answer he went on:

‘Do you handle charity accounts, what I believe the industry calls not for profit services which have an important social value?’

I nodded slowly as if he were a Santa of limited intelligence

‘Well please take a look at this and see if your Agency would like to work with me….’

He handed me a small carefully wrapped Christmas gift with a rather formal envelope…

‘People don’t seem to believe in Father Christmas anymore and maybe, your Group could help change that…’

The elevator door opened at the second floor, and looking at me fervently he said:

‘Take a look at this, and if you are interested, come and talk some more tomorrow- you’ll find me in my workshop on the eleventh floor’ and with that, he was gone.

The doors closed, and seconds later I was walking up 5th Avenue towards St Thomas’s and Choral Evensong.

Later, much later that evening in the banter of post-workshop cocktails, I told my colleagues about my meeting with Santa, and we started to come up with all sorts of ideas about how we might reposition Santa, and as Martini followed Martini, the ideas naturally became sillier.

The following morning, after a couple of false starts, I got up and found the small parcel. I opened it to find it was a small book entitled The Gift. I flicked through about a hundred pages of fairly dense text and then opened the envelope. Inside was an elegant Carte de visite, bearing the name Nicholas Myra with a 5th Avenue address. There was also a small piece of text on it, which I recognised as a Latin quotation:

‘Quas dederis solas semper habebis opes’

A rapid search on my iPhone showed this to be one of the epigrams written by Martial famous for his one liners, and a very liberal translation of this line would be something like:

You only truly own what you give away’

So, not a bad motto for this Santa with a penchant for Latin tags, I thought, but let’s find out exactly what he was offering me.

After coffee, and a re-invigorating walk in the park, I walked down 5th back to Saks. The Christmas multitude was already gathering and I had to push my way through the crowd at St Patrick’s back into the ground floor hall. I made for the bank of elevators and was able to slide into the last place in a car. I turned and looked at the floor plan and noticed there was no 11th floor. ‘Take the 10th’ I thought to myself ‘and find the staircase.’

The door opened and I found myself in the Administrative Area where I was met by the gaze of a friendly but rather formal senior Associate.

‘Can I help you, Sir?’

‘I’ve been invited to a meeting with one of your colleagues on the 11th floor’

‘We have no 11th floor, sir…’

‘But I met your Santa yesterday and he invited me a meeting at his workshop on the 11th floor- here’s his card…’

She looked at the card, there was pause and then she said slowly and earnestly

‘We have no 11th floor; we have no Santa Associate. This is Saks Fifth Avenue, sir, perhaps you have us confused with Macy’s?’

‘But I met him yesterday- please look at the card…’

‘Sir, can I get you a glass of water?’

I demurred and retreated back to the elevator….I looked down at the card, there was no name, no address, and there was no longer any Latin words to be seen…but there was a short sentence in English:

What you give of yourself shall alone remain as your permanent riches. Good will to all men. Happy Christmas!

I stood there for a few moments and then I began to smile. I was still smiling as I walked out of Saks and into the fast flowing sea of festive people on 5th, and in the distance, I could hear a carillon playing Santa Claus is coming into town.

Paul Christopher Walton founded The Value Engineers. After thirty five years, he continues to love the world of brands but hasn’t met Santa yet, but he still believes.

December 6th is the feast day of St Nicholas, Bishop of Myra

Penmaen Pool

To celebrate National Poetry Day


Who long for rest, who look for pleasure

Away from counter, court, or school

O where live well your lease of leisure

But here at, here at Penmaen Pool?


You’ll dare the Alp? You’ll dart the skiff?

Each sport has here its tackle and tool:

Come, plant the staff by Cadair cliff;

Come; swing the sculls on Penmaen Pool.


What’s yonder? Grizzled Dyphwys dim:

The triple-hummocked Giant’s stool,

Hoar messmate, hobs and nobs with him

To halve the bowl of Penmaen Pool.


And all the landscape under survey,

At tranquil turns, by nature’s rule,

Rides repeated topsy-turvy

In frank, in fairy Penmaen Pool.


And Charles’s Wain, the wondrous seven,

And sheep-flock clouds like worlds of wool.

For all they shine so, high in heaven,

Shew brighter shaken in Penmaen Pool.


The Mawddach, how she trips! Though throttled

If floodtide teeming thrills her full,

And mazy sands all water-wattled

Waylay her at ebb, past Penmaen Pool.


But what ‘s to see in stormy weather,

When grey showers gather and gusts are cool?

Why, raindrop-roundels looped together

That lace the face of Penmaen Pool.


Then even in weariest wintry hour

Of New Year’s month or surly Yule

Furred snows, charged tuft above tuft, tower

From darksome darksome Penmaen Pool.


And ever, if bound here hardest home,

You’ve parlour-pastime left and (who’ll

Not honour it?) ale like goldy foam

That frocks an oar in Penmaen Pool.


Then come who pine for peace or pleasure

Away from counter, court, or school,

Spend here your measure of time and treasure

And taste the treats of Penmaen Pool.


Gerard Manley-Hopkins

From the Visitors’ Book at the Inn

Marians and Van der Graaf Generator Reunited

This picture dates from 2005 and features Babs and I and three great Marian friends: Rog, Malc and Dunc, of whom at least two joined me on trips to Farchynys.

The Mawddach bonding must have been powerful because 40 years after we made the trip, I was  able to persuade them to join me at the Royal Festival Hall for the reunion concert of Van der Graaf Generator, a band which  was the Marmite of British 70s rock and not particularly famous for moments of easy musical mindfulness. We had a great night.

And today in 2017, it was wonderful to see the banter and the warmth as strong as ever amongst us.



From the Farchynys Timeline #13


A Gothic Weekend

Farchynys early acquired a reputation for austerity. As The Marian noted in 1965, “A weekend at Farchynys is to a large extent getting by without it; ‘it’ being some of the luxuries of home and the delights of Babylon.” But I wonder what that writer would have made of the spectacular Gothic experiences shared by A- level English students at The Coach House in an appropriately spooky November 2011?

Taking the long view, Gothic experiences are nothing new on the Mawddach. In the early nineteenth century, the area was popular with many writers and artists. Samuel Taylor Coleridge climbed Cadair, Percy Bysshe Shelley visited in 1812 and perhaps inspired by this our latter day Goths were a party of A level sixth formers intent on days of “exploration and transgression” as one them recorded. A suitably sybaritic and uncanny programme included readings of Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto and Marlowe’s Dr Faustus in The Coach House, of Dracula in the Gazebo by torchlight served with popcorn and a performance of The Woman in Black in the suitably ghostly atmosphere of the Church of St. Mary and St. Bodfan, Llanber.